DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has voted for some limitations if Iowa voters eventually approve a constitutional amendment that automatically restores voting rights to released felons. The plan would require felons to have paid all the restitution they owe victims before they’d be allowed to vote.
“Instead of adopting the view that all felons are now the new victim here in Iowa, what we’re trying to do here in the Senate is say let’s bring this back to the victims, where this process all started to begin with,” Senator Dan Dawson, a Republican from Council Bluffs, said last night during senate debate.
Last year, Governor Kim Reynolds called on her Republican colleagues in the legislature to draft a constitutional amendment to automatically give felons voting rights when they’re released from prison. The House passed the proposal in 2019, but it stalled in the Senate. Dawson said that’s because these proposed limitations are necessary for some criminals.
“I like to think I live in a place called ‘Realville,’ and inside ‘Realville’ there’s bad people there and they do bad things,” Dawson said. “And we shouldn’t kid ourselves to believe that once they exit prison all is well and they’re new members of society.”
The bill would require some felons to apply to the governor for their voting rights if they’ve been convicted of serious crimes, like rape, murder, homicide, child endangerment resulting in death and election misconduct. Dawson called the bill a good faith effort to resolve the issue.
“The most disappointing part of this entire process for the last 13 months when we’re trying to find a way to more standardize this process is the absolute lack of discussion around the victims,” Dawson said. “…The Iowa Senate is going to ensure that victims are included in this process — not just words, not platitudes.”
Governor Reynolds told reporters Tuesday morning that she considers the bill a compromise she’d accept.
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was among two senators who argued during tonight’s debate that every released felon should get their voting rights back, without conditions.
“It’s a way of reconnecting them to the community,” Hogg said. “It helps successful re-entry and it reduces crime and it reduces victims.”
The bill with proposed felon voting restrictions passed by a 37-11 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.